Diary of a headteacher: Planning for re-opening

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Just how can you open a school while maintaining social distancing and other safety measures? This question is looming large on the horizon for our headteacher diarist

Since 1995 when I started teaching, I have often contemplated how I might respond in any given situation as headteacher.

I would while away an hour imagining how I might have responded in times of extreme stress or challenge. What would I do in terms of a difficult staffing issue? How might I have dealt with that particularly challenging child? Would I have said something different in that meeting?

I am sure the same applies to most staff in schools. What would you do if you held ultimate responsibility for your school and all the learners and staff in your care?

When I thought about what it would be like to be a headteacher, I never imagined in my wildest dreams the events of the past few months. Who would have envisaged that we would be making educational and national history? The first nationwide shutdown of schools in British history and we are part of it.

Remote learning, GCSE and A level exams cancelled, figuring out how to provide for students eligible for free school meals, shielding and social distancing for staff and students, on-site provision for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – the list goes on.

We have planned for the unthinkable and our actions will become fodder for GCSE and A level history exams in years to come.

We all watched and waited as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded. We anticipated the news on a national school closure, possibly hoping against hope that we could somehow continue as normal. We imagined that we might be closed for two weeks either side of the Easter holidays. As we now know, that was not to happen.

As I write, we are now on our seventh week of lockdown. I am sat at my desk in my practically empty school. We have three children of key workers and five members of staff on site. The reminder of staff and students are working from home.

They have adapted amazingly well – we have all had to. Across the country and throughout the world, educators have shown just how adaptable we can be, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Today my leadership team have continued their work with colleagues in the school on the quality assurances of our predicted GCSE and A level grades. The rank order is something that we anticipated, harking back to the days of 100 per cent coursework.

For some of our teachers, the idea of a rank order based on attainment is a whole new world. We are relearning how to assess and, indeed, how to teach, through a lockdown in the digital age.

What next? We have all read a great deal of press speculation on plans to end lockdown. Inevitably, these articles all begin with ponderings around when schools will be re-opened. Our first and most important priority has to be to ensure we keep staff and students and our wider community safe and well. That aim must be at the forefront of our mind with any plans we make.

Potential dates to lift the national school closure have been banded around by the press. However, as yet, we do not have any concrete evidence of either when schools will re-open or, indeed, how re-opening will manifest itself.

Assuming we still have at least a few weeks before re-opening (and, of course, it might be much longer), we have begun sharing ideas to see what re-opening might look like.

Lots of our discussions have inevitably been centred on the practical suggestions that can help manage anxiety. We have also discussed how we would adhere to social distancing guidelines should school resume (for example, we are looking into the sizes of our classrooms to see how many students could safely fit in).

We are also considering which year group we should prioritise for a return to school should this be a staggered start as has been confirmed by the education secretary (we believe that year 10, 12, vulnerable students and the children of key workers should be prioritised). Our ideas are tentative and need adding to and refining as more information emerges.

We must also consider the challenges of staff capacity and what is and is not possible to maintain social distancing once school re-opens. We need to consider the challenge of choosing between schooling with some semblance of normality (with the routine and planned learning that children are used to) and organising a school day very differently – limiting contact to as few children and staff as possible.

We also have the responsibility and the challenge of re-organising ways of working safely in the building. This is no small task and we have lots of thinking and planning to do.

When I used to daydream about what I would do if I was headteacher, I never imagined that I would be navigating through the quagmire of uncertainty that this pandemic has brought. Like all of us, we can do no more than our best. In these unprecedented times, we must just hope that our best is good enough.

  • The author is a headteacher in her second year of headship at a secondary school in east London.


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